Jul 10, 2015 ยท 6 minutes

Safe space: "A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person's self-respect and dignity and strongly encourage everyone to respect others." - Advocates For Youth LGBTQ toolkit

This week, a controversy involving the biggest voice in mainstream feminism has led to a virtual clinic on everything wrong with political discourse in the social media age.

Thanks to her hit show on Comedy Central, Amy Schumer has quickly risen to the status of a national icon for her smart, hilarious takes on gender issues -- issues that have rarely been so visible or hotly-contested in America. Her ascent has also invited an enormous amount of scrunity, however -- there are no heroes in the Internet age who don't also inspire a flood of takedown tweets and thinkpieces. I can see the headlines now: "Don't Believe the Hype: Why Mother Teresa Isn't That Kind and Is Actually a Piece of Garbage." 
Of course, Schumer is no Mother Teresa. For Schumer, at issue are a trio of jokes mired in Latino stereotypes: Calling Latina women “crazy” at the MTV Movie Awards; joking that “nothing works 100 percent of the time – except Mexicans”; and in a standup routine Donald Trump could be proud of, explaining, “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual.”
These are undoubtedly racist jokes. But while they aren't the most sophisticated examples of satire, they are satire nonetheless, delivered via the "young, sheltered, white girl" persona Schumer has invented on television and in standup routines. Like all satire, the aim to take the piss out of reactionary stereotypes, not reinforce them. Audience members whose prejudices are reinforced by these jokes are likely hopeless racists who can't be helped.
But consistent with the Internet's tendency toward hyperbole in order to attract as many clicks as possible, we bore witness this week to an article at the Washington Post arguing that Schumer is not just a racist -- she's a racist on the order of Donald Trump; Charleston shooter Dylann Roof; the authors even invoke the Confederate flag as if to suggest, "Hey, do you think Amy Schumer's funny? I bet you also think slavery is funny."

These extreme comparisons, coupled with mob dynamics and "horizontal censorship" pressures, have resulted in a toxic level of discourse surrounding this issue. (I wrote about this in greater detail here.)

But in perhaps no community were these character attacks more vicious than in private feminist "safe space" groups online.

After writing my piece on Amy Schumer, a woman who is a member of one such group reached out to me. She told me that after one woman defended Schumer -- and did so in the most respectful way imaginable -- she became the target of a full-on assault from a small but vocal minority who labelled her opinions as hate speech -- hate speech against people of color and, in an interesting leap, against gay and transgender individuals as well. (Guess what race, gender alignment, and sexual preference most of the women attacking her were? White, cis, and heterosexual.)

These internecine squabbles over race within feminist communities -- which Ijeoma Oluo wrote about at the Huffington Post here -- prompted my friend to leave the group. Before doing so, she wrote the following letter to the group, reposted below in full, anonymously and with her permission:

Hey this post will probably be deleted but I wanted to get some things off my chest. I joined [redacted] because as a woman who always identified herself as feminist and whose art has been described as such, I wanted to join a group where women could discuss freely the issues and struggles we face everyday without fear of reprisal, whether that comes from a man or a woman, white or black.

What I've witnessed instead is a small group of women (most of whom, by the way, are "white", "cis," and "het" like me) who diminish the viewpoints of those who do not fit into a very specific mold and who do not repeat very specific talking points that the "group" has deemed "acceptable." I mention that these women are white, cis, and het not to pre-judge the validity of their experiences, like so many of you do, but to say this: you could trot out the richest, whitest, fratboy businessman Republican on the planet and they wouldn't be half as "privileged" as the lot of you.

A women tells a story about a man who showed her his penis on the subway and you attack her for calling him "African American"? And then silence her by deleting her post. One commenter said her "day was ruined" because a woman shared a comment that differed a bit from the prevailing worldview policed in this group. If these are the things that "ruin your day" I'm not sure that you've ever experienced a real struggle in your life, which is the definition of privilege. Privilege is not the sole domain of white, cis, hets, but you wouldn't know it by looking at many of the people in this group who are so quick to go on the offensive whenever someone merely asks you to defend your statements with some semblance of intellectual rigor, instead of merely assuming that anyone who doesn't immediately get where you're coming from is a racist.

I'm not sure how you can call this a "safe space" when hate speech against white, cis, and hets is championed, even and especially when the hater is white, cis, and het herself and completely unaware of the irony of her statement. Just look at the comment screenshot I attached that reads "I hate white people." And it got 14 likes! Since when is feminism about hating white people?

I came here looking to sympathize with and gain understanding of all of your unique experiences, whether they're informed by race, class, gender, or upbringing. But that same courtesy has not been extended to many of the women who comment here, especially those who aren't people of color or gay or trans. I know what you're going to say: "she's shedding white tears!" No, I'm not shedding any tears for the people forced out of this group. They are better off. The only tears I might shed are for the commenters here who lack the ability to think critically about issues and can only repeat what other people they admire have already written. Or for the “leaders” of this group that find it too "emotionally taxing" to explain their own rhetoric.

No, anyone who gets out of this group is only leaving behind a pathetic gang of fakes who, in an effort to be accepted by the peer group here, follow blindly a certain small subset of extremist feminist politics. Which would be fine except that none of you can defend your viewpoints when put on the spot, getting insecure and combative when your beliefs are questioned - which proves to me that you're no different than the suburban white kid who discovers a hip hop record and suddenly fancies himself an expert on black culture. This is not a safe space. The only thing this group is "safe" from is actually defending its beliefs when called to do so - probably because you don't really understand them in the first place.

In closing, here's a link to a post that most of you will immediately write off because it was written by a white male, but it discusses many of the problems with horizontal censorship among small clans on social media. Hope you learn something from it. Later, losers!